Finding Versus Receiving: How Content Acquisition Affects Sharing

Zoey Chen and Jonah Berger, 2015, 15-120

People often share online content with others (e.g., articles and videos), and social sharing is an integral part of everyday life. As a result, companies and organizations now invest more and more resources in creating content that they hope people will share. But while some research shows how certain content characteristics impacts sharing (e.g., whether it evokes positive emotion, whether it is interesting), might the method by which people acquire content—that is, whether they find content themselves or receive it from others—impact subsequent sharing?

In this report, Zoey Chen and Jonah Berger examine how and why acquisition method influences social sharing.  

In four studies, they demonstrate that finding (rather than receiving) content causes people to associate the content with themselves and process it less systematically. Thus, they become less sensitive to diagnostic content characteristics such as interestingness, writing quality, and argument strength.

Two additional studies examined the role of consumer-specific variables, demonstrating that content finders with high self-esteem were less likely to systematically process information than those with low self-esteem.

These findings suggest that managers should be sensitive to the communication channel of word of mouth when crafting content. To increase processing of content, marketers might use strategies that encourage consumers to feel like they have received the content (e.g., send content to via newsletters or direct email) rather than found the content (e.g., share content via blogpost or online ads). Furthermore, marketers need to devote more time and effort crafting content when the goal is to encourage sharing among receivers. 

Further, content should be crafted with the consumer-specific variables in mind. When the target audience has characteristics that are consistent with high information processors (e.g., articles targeting depressed individuals or ads targeting teens with low self-esteem), higher quality content is more likely to encourage sharing among these individuals.

Taken together, the studies demonstrate how acquisition method impacts sharing and the underlying processes behind these effects. These findings deepen insights into psychological drivers of word of mouth and shed light on how contextual factors, content characteristics, and the self interact to drive transmission.

Zoey Chen is Assistant Professor of Marketing at the School of Business Administration, University of Miami. Jonah Berger is Associate Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Portions of this article were completed while the second author was a visiting professor at Cornell Tech.

Related links

How Expertise and Endorsement Style Impact Word of Mouth Persuasion
Grant Packard and Jonah Berger (2015) [Report]

How Audience Size Affects Word of Mouth (2013) [Article]


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